Reuters – Myanmar ‘s navy found a boat carrying more than 200 Bangladeshis, the government said on Friday, after the military chief said some migrants landing in Malaysia and Indonesia this month are pretending to be Rohingya Muslims so they can get U.N. aid.
The western Myanmar state of Rakhine said the boat was from Thailand and the plan was to send the migrants back.
The remarks are sure to spark concern after the United States lambasted Myanmar this week for failing to address the cause of the crisis, which observers say stems from Myanmar ‘s refusal to recognize the Rohingya, an ethnic minority group living in western Myanmar, as citizens.
Most of Myanmar ‘s 1.1 million Rohingya are stateless and live in apartheid-like conditions. Almost 140,000 were displaced in deadly clashes with Buddhists in the state of Rakhine in 2012.
U.N. agencies have urged regional governments to protect thousands of migrants stranded on boats in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman sea with dwindling supplies.
The boat and a second, empty vessel, came from Ranong, in southern Thailand, theRakhine state government said in a press release.
The plan was to send the migrants “back to Thailand”.
Myanmar ‘s navy found the boats on Thursday.
“While on patrol in Myanmar waters, the Myanmar Navy ship 568 found a boat loaded with about 200 Bengali and another empty boat at sea about four miles west of Thinbaw GwayVillage, Maungdaw Township,” Myanmar government spokesman Ye Htut said on his Facebook page, using the government’s term for illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
Altogether, 219 people were on the boat, said Ye Htut, including nine crew members and “two Bengali interpreters”.
He added that the migrants were “from Cox’s Bazar, Chittagong and northern Dhaka,” referring to cities and towns in Bangladesh.
Hundreds of migrants, including Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladeshis fleeing persecution and poverty at home, have been pushed back out to sea by Thailand, Malaysiaand Indonesia this month. Many now face sickness and possible starvation.
Senior Myanmar General Min Aung Hlaing “hinted that most victims are expected to assume themselves to be Rohingya from Myanmar in the hope of receiving assistance from UNHCR” during a meeting with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday, the state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.
“He stressed the need to investigate their country of origin rather than to accuse a country,” the newspaper reported.
Blinken had stressed the need for Myanmar to address the causes of the migration, “including the racially and religiously motivated discrimination and violence”.
Many Rohingya have long complained of state-sanctioned discrimination in Myanmar and are denied citizenship. Myanmar denies discriminating against the group and has said it is not the source of the problem.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Thursday pledged assistance and ordered thenavy to rescue thousands adrift at sea, and a Thai official said Myanmar had agreed to attend an emergency conference on the crisis.
Malaysia and Indonesia have also said they would let as many as 7,000 migrants on the seas now to come ashore temporarily, but no more.
Both countries have also said that temporary shelters would be set up to house the migrants but Thailand, a traditional transit point for those trying to reach Malaysia for work, said it would not follow suit.